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80% of Lip Balm Models Found with Potential Harmful Mineral Oil Hydrocarbons Stay Cautious with Models Containing Allergens

  • 2020.03.16

Lip balm is a care product applying on lips and its ingredients can be easily ingested, thus its safety level is crucial to consumers’ health. Consumers should be cautious with its ingredients as they will be easily ingested. The Consumer Council tested 45 models of lip balms available in the market and found that 80% contained potential harmful mineral oil hydrocarbons, including all models with sunscreen claims. Among the models, 5 of its Mineral Oil Saturated Hydrocarbon (MOSH) mixtures content failed to meet the industrial recommendation limit (5%) cited by the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (German abbreviated BfR), with the highest one reaching 40.8%. The MOSH mixtures of C16 to C35 in 14 models failed to meet the safety threshold (10%) recommended by the European Consumer Organization, with the highest model reaching 49.7%. Mineral oil aromatic hydrocarbon (MOAH) mixtures were found in 23 models, with the highest one up to totally 4.5%.

Since some MOSH substances may accumulate in adipose tissue and a number of organs, whereas MOAH may contain carcinogenic substances of which some are suspected of being genotoxic and carcinogenic, the Council urged the manufacturers to review the product ingredients and the production processes to reduce the content of MOSH and MOAH in lip care products in order to protect the health of consumers.

Among the 45 lip balm models tested, 11 of them claimed to have sunscreen function. There were 36 models that can be applied on lips directly, whereas the remaining 9 needs to be applied by fingers. The price among models varied significantly, ranging from $13 to $505 per stick/bottle, or $1.3 to $56.1 per g/ml, a difference of 42 times. The items being tested included mineral oil hydrocarbons MOSH and MOAH, fragrance allergens, heavy metals, and the content of parabens. The product labelling of each model was also reviewed.

The contents of MOSH and MOAH

It is essential to use safe ingredients in lip balm products. However, 36 out of the 45 models were detected with MOSH, ranging from the lowest total amount of 0.011% to the highest 70%, of which 13 models detected with a higher total amount exceeding 30%. Since the hydrocarbons of carbon atoms ranging from 10 to 50 (C10 to C50) are of greater concern to the food safety organizations, the Council also analysed the distribution of MOSH mixtures detected in each model.

Short-chained MOSH mixtures were found in 18 models (the number of carbon atoms ranged from C10 to C25), of which 5 contained 6.9% to 40.8%, exceeding the industrial recommendation limit (5%) cited by the BfR.

Long-chained MOSH mixtures were found in 35 models (the number of carbon atoms ranged from C16 to C35), of which 14 contained 12.8% to 49.7%, failing to comply with the safety threshold (10%) recommended by the European Consumer Organization. Research has indicated that, these substances may accumulate in body and possibly be associated with lipogranulomas appeared in liver, spleen, lymph nodes and other organs. Based on the model detected with the highest amount, in one year of usage one may ingest 10.3 grams long-chained MOSH substances (C16-C35), an intake amount that gives rise to concern.

There were 30 models detected with MOSH mixture (the number of carbon atoms ranged from C35 to C50), ranging from 0.0056% to 38%.

On the other hand, MOAH mixtures were found in 23 models, with a total amount from the lowest 0.0054% to the highest 4.5%. MOAH fractions may contain carcinogenic compounds, and some overseas consumer organizations suggested that consumers should minimize intake as far as possible.

Frequent users of lips cosmetics, infants and children should avoid using lip balm with mineral oils as major ingredients. Parents should attend closely that some lip balm products added with fragrances and flavours may attract children to apply or lick their lips frequently, possibly increasing the intake of mineral oil substances.

In addition, consumers must also pay attention to whether the labelled ingredients are marked with fragrance allergens. 41 from all samples were detected with fragrance allergens, of which 5 contained a higher total amount, ranging from 0.85% to about 2.1%. Besides, limonene was found in 37 models and linalool was found in 26 models. These substances may form more potent allergic substances upon oxidation. Consumers who are allergic to fragrance substances should be more cautious.

As for heavy metals, trace amounts of nickel were found in 10 models, ranging from 0.1mg to 1.9mg per kg. Neither the Mainland nor the European Union has set a limit of nickel content for cosmetics. However, nickel is a well-known allergy-causing substance which may cause allergic contact cheilitis through skin contact, leading to dryness, peeling, puffiness, burning or tingling sensation etc. Another 3 models also found to contain traces of lead that the content still met the relevant regulations.

3 models were found to contain preservative parabens, and the detected amounts also met the requirements. By examining the labelling information, it was found that some labelled with lanolin that may cause allergic reactions such as rash, redness and swelling. Those models claimed with sunscreen function contain UV filter ethylhexyl methoxycinnamate, a potential endocrine disruptor that infants, children and pregnant women should avoid. Another UV filter of Benzophenone-3 may also cause allergic reactions to some people. Consumers should read the information on the ingredients list carefully.

Most of the models were not satisfactory in product labelling. 9 did not indicate the detailed ingredients used, of which 4 were found to have higher amount of long-chained MOSH. It is suggested that the relevant manufacturers should improve the product label so that consumers would know the product contains mineral oil. As for the use period, only 2 models labelled with both the manufacturing date, shelf-life expiry date, and use period after opening. 6 models even did not label with any use period. Among those indicated with use period after opening, such period varied significantly, ranging from 6 months to 36 months. The Council urged manufacturers to improve product ingredients label swiftly and enhance information transparency of product composition to allow consumers to make informed choices.

Consumers are advised to take note of the following when using a lip balm:

  • If the problem of dry lips is serious, it is suggested to reapply lip balm a few times every day to maintain a prolonged moisturizing effect;
  • Lip balm with sunscreen function can be used if staying outdoor for a certain period while lip balm with general nourishing function is more suitable for indoor use;
  • Before eating and drinking, it is best to remove lip balm first to reduce the chance of possible mineral oil intake;
  • Lip balm should be used up before its expiry date indicated on product label.  In case of allergic reactions such as irritation, peeling or cracking appears after use, or feel burning and tinging, stop using it immediately;
  • Read the product ingredients list carefully. Frequent users, infants and children should avoid using mineral oil-based lip balm. For those prone to have skin allergic reactions, it is suggested to avoid using products with high amounts of fragrance allergens.

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